Cleanup funding OKd by Congressional committees

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Members of the New Mexico Congressional delegations announced Wednesday that the necessary Senate and House committees have approved a reprogramming request for an additional $19 million needed to assist in maintaining the ongoing cleanup and environmental management efforts at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“Congress’ quick approval of the $19 million we’ve been pushing for is welcome news to prevent layoffs and ensure the stability of critical nuclear waste cleanup efforts underway at LANL,” said Sen. Tom Udall, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Getting funds reprogrammed is no easy task — especially with the sequester taking a toll across the nation — so I’m proud we have made progress in getting LANL the resources they need to meet legal obligations and safely dispose of the waste. The White House and Department of Energy have been very responsive to our efforts and I will continue doing everything I can to secure additional funds to get the job done.”

“I’m pleased that Los Alamos National Laboratory will receive sufficient funding this year to prevent layoffs and continue ongoing defense legacy waste cleanup efforts —an important commitment the Department of Energy has made to the people of New Mexico,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. 

“LANL must have sufficient resources to help ensure all planned restoration and protection efforts remain on schedule and critical milestones are met.”

Following the Las Conchas fire in June 2011, DOE and the State of New Mexico made a framework agreement to expedite the removal and off-site shipment of high-risk combustible and dispersible transuranic (TRU) waste currently stored above ground at LANL. Under the new agreement, DOE committed to remove the 3,706 cubic meters of above ground TRU waste by June 30, 2014.

Gov. Susana Martinez was at the lab last week to get a progress report on the cleanup, as well as advocate for more cleanup funding and push Congress reallocate those funds.

To ensure deadlines are met, the Obama Administration requested $239 million for LANL cleanup in the fiscal year 2013 budget. However, a continuing budget resolution froze the cleanup funding level at $189 million and sequestration cuts further reduced that figure to $173 million. 

Reprogramming actions allow federal agencies to shift funds between accounts during a fiscal year but must be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget and Congressional Committees with jurisdiction. 

“Shifting these critical funds from other areas in the Department of Energy to environmental cleanup at LANL is an important step forward to meet the government’s commitment to remove waste from the lab,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  “I am pleased that our efforts to encourage the committees to act quickly will guarantee these vital funds and ensure environmental cleanup at LANL continues.”

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) also was involved in the process.

Pearce sent a letter to Congressman Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, urging him to consider the DOE’s request to reprogram funds to ensure the project may continue.

“I am pleased with this decision, which is the only common sense move for New Mexico’s safety and our jobs,” said Pearce.  

Greg Mello, meanwhile, of the Los Alamos Study Group had a different take on the cleanup situation.

“On its face, everyone should celebrate a small increase in “cleanup” money at LANL, right?” Mello asked.  “Wrong.  The spectacle of the New Mexico delegation debasing themselves again to get money for LANL while neglecting the rest of the state is deeply troubling. Wrapping themselves in the green flag of fake environmentalism doesn’t make it better.  Of course that money comes from other cleanups and other communities. 

“Somebody should tell environmental voters that four-fifths of the transuranic waste shipped from LANL in the last 15 years was newly-generated from the nuclear weapons program.  “Cleanup” of TRU waste at LANL has been mostly a euphemism for sweeping up after current nuclear bomb-building.  

“More broadly, it would be nice if our delegation had some real environmental values or credentials, but we don’t see that.  Mainstream environmental groups and liberal donors, easily herded by fear and applying ever-lower standards, let them get away with nonchalant environmental murder and still lend their unquestioning support.” 

The NNSA is trying to gain an additional $21 million for cleanup funding with another reprogramming request.